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Food stylist like no other

Posted on: August 27, 2009

Food stylist like no other

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 22:14:00 08/26/2009

Filed Under: Food, Celebrities

FOOD styling is the art and science of making food the hero by presenting them as “more appetizing and mouth-watering” so that consumers couldn’t wait to try a product, said international food stylist Delores Custer.

Like any profession, “passion for learning, hard work, perseverance and patience” are key ingredients to become a successful food stylist, said Custer, one of the brains behind successful food endorsements abroad, especially in New York.

A former school teacher, Custer confessed she ventured into food styling at 37 years old when she met a food stylist during her fifth degree at the New York University, and after learning the details of the job there was no turning back for her.

Custer started food styling with an orange box, filled with four basic knives, a set of brushes and tweezers to paint colors on food, eye droppers to make food moist and skewers to create grill marks on burger patties.

While the ordinary eye sees food, Custer says a food stylist is trained to see flow, texture, mix of colors, moisture and shape to create a unique and appetizing image of, say a burger.

“Food styling takes a little bit of everything – you have to understand the chemistry of foods, at least be good in cooking and baking, be a good communicator and team player when working in a project, you need to be creative and resourceful. And finally, you have to give 150 percent, give extra, not only in styling food, but also to everything that you do,” Custer told

Some Filipino foods such as “adobo” are hard to style due to the lack of bright colors but a stylist can remedy this by presenting the food in interesting plates or by adding a garnish for color, said Custer.

With 33 years of field experience, Custer said trends in food styling have evolved from the very pristine look of the ’80s to the more natural, more doable look of presenting food in the present. But she warned: like fashion, trends in her arena change faster and “nothing is defining.”

If there are disruptive trends, it will be digital photography and digital image editing tools like Photoshop, she said.

“With digital photography, we can combine things and sometimes you will need photographers less because you can buy stock images, Photoshop that to suit your desired food presentation. I see the combination of illustrations and real photography a lot and it is one of the trends today,” said Custer.

But one must still the basic foundations of the trade, she said.

“For starters, it’s about being persistent and developing skills. As one chef told me, it’s better to take the stairs than the elevator because with the elevator you go up fast but you can go down just as fast. So be patient and build a strong foundation. Food companies hire us because they trust us to be able to do the job, if we don’t do the job well they don’t hire us again,” said Custer.

For aspiring food stylists, Custer advised: “We work for ourselves so be a self starter. Develop materials or a portfolio to promote yourself and don’t be shy to approach and talk to people who might be instrumental to give you your next project. Be persistent keep at it.”

Food styling tips

During her recent visit in Manila, Custer taught over 500 local food executives over the weekend about techniques on food styling, the skills needed for the profession and tips on how to enjoy working and playing with food.

Below are some of these tips:

• Collect clippings of ads in magazines and brochures that can inspire you to produce an interesting photograph or presentation of your food. A picture of a model standing on a patio with Chinese umbrella inspired Custer to shoot beverage using the same style but replacing the model with the beverage.
• Balance food compositions either formally (symmetrical) or informally (assymetrical).Be experimental on the use of light, colors, props and space.
• Always know the angle from which the camera views the food and style the food at this angle to achieve your goal: make it more appetizing. Shooting a burger over the counter at eye-level may not be as appealing with a close up showing the burger’s filling of patties, lettuce and cheese.
• Pour sauces on food just before shooting so it glistens. Sauces become thick and dull for shooting if left cold.
• Use plates that complement the food. A white plate brings out the color of food while a plate full of colorful patterns distracts the eye from the food.
• Fruits or vegetables with shape or twist look more interesting than a flat slice.
• Shop for beautiful food. In shooting for a chocolate dip, Custer shopped in seven stores to look for a beautiful strawberry that was dipped in the product and used in the ad.

Custer will release a book on food styling by 2010, condensing her 33 years of work as a food stylist and the styles she perfected over the years.


1 Response to "Food stylist like no other"

A very informative piece on food styling. Do you have any tips on styling biscuits and cookies

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